A US-Ireland partnership involving researchers at Queen’s University Belfast has been awarded £2.9m to develop new treatments for pancreatic cancer, which is the fifth most common cause of cancer deaths in the UK.
The grant has been awarded under the US-Ireland Research and Development Partnership Programme. It will bring together world-leading experts in drug delivery and cancer research at Queen’s, Dublin City University and the University at Buffalo.
The five-year programme will focus on the development of ‘nanomedicine’ in the treatment of pancreatic cancer, for which current treatment options are limited. The transatlantic team aim to develop miniscule technology – so tiny that it is invisible to the naked eye – to deliver drugs directly to cancer sites and thereby improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy treatments.
Almost 9,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK every year. It has the lowest five-year survival rate of any common cancer and one that has barely improved in 40 years.
In Northern Ireland, during 2009-2013 an average of 220 cases of pancreatic cancer were diagnosed each year. The five-year survival rate for patients diagnosed in 2004-2008 was 5%.
Pancreatic cancer is often very advanced by the time it is diagnosed and only 3% of patients are still alive five years after diagnosis. More than 80% of people with the disease are diagnosed when it has already spread, so they are not eligible for surgery to remove the tumour – currently the only potential cure.
This partnership is a unique arrangement involving funding agencies in the USA, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland who combine resources to enable the best researchers from Ireland and the USA to work together on research to address critical issues and generate valuable discoveries that will impact on patient care.
Queen’s University Professor Christopher Scott, Director of Research, Molecular Therapeutics Cluster in the School of Pharmacy, who is leading the project, said: “Pancreatic cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer deaths in the UK. Many chemotherapies could be more effective, and induce fewer side effects, if they could access the tumour more easily; this is what we aim to examine in this project. By working in partnership with researchers in New York and Dublin it will allow us to generate valuable discoveries and innovations which can move our work out of the laboratory and towards clinical trials.
“This is another example of the commitment of researchers and staff at Queen’s to advancing knowledge and changing lives.”
Dr Janice Bailie, Assistant Director of the Public Health Agency’s HSC R&D Division, which is funding the Northern Ireland part of this project with support from the Medical Research Council, said: “We are delighted to be funding this project which will tackle an important area around drug delivery in pancreatic cancer which we know is a difficult disease to treat. We expect that the outcomes from this international research will lead to significant advances in the treatment of patients with pancreatic cancer in the UK, Ireland and beyond.”